We're about to get into a full week of sneaker collector coverage here at Complex Sneakers, from the collectors to the collections, from sneakers you should own (or aspire to own) to how to properly care for the ones you already have. But before we get into all that, Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson) breaks down once and for all what a sneaker collector actually is, and whether you are one or not.

We’re going to be talking about sneaker collectors a lot this week, and it seemed like the proper way to kick things off was to answer an oft-unasked question: What makes you a sneaker collector? Because much like “sneakerhead,” the term seems to have acquired a certain stigma within the sneaker community, even with people who no doubt fit the description. “Me, a collector?” someone will say. “Nope, I WEAR all my kicks.” As if owning even one pair for display only is somehow offensive.

Here’s what a sneaker collector is not: Someone who indiscriminately stacks new releases, building sheer volume based on whatever is hot (or whatever is available) right now. If you only buy what you think will pop off on Instagram, you are not a sneaker collector. Collections have purpose, collections have integrity, collections have root in a personal interest or passion. Collections require thought and often result in quests for that one rare item—some of which may go unfulfilled. A true collection should say something about the collector, and be worth more than the sum of its parts. And a well-curated collection of a dozen pairs can be more impressive than a storage unit full of sneakers with no cohesive narrative.

 

If you only buy what you think will pop off on Instagram, you are not a sneaker collector.

 

Sneaker collecting is a relatively recent phenomenon, at least in comparison to the classic collector targets—stamps, coins, baseball cards, records, cars. Maybe someone was buying and storing every variant of the Converse All Star back in the early 1900s, but it would have been an awfully small collection. Not until the ‘70s or ‘80s was there enough variety (in both style and brand) to support sneaker collectors en masse. Before that, sneakers were just disposable pieces of athletic equipment, to be bought, worn, and thrown away. (Which, of course, is why certain early models can be so valuable now.) Sneaker collecting is such a recent phenomenon that there are no price guides, no grading systems. Sneaker collectors are more or less on their own.

(Which leads to another point, and an entire parenthetical paragraph: What does “wearing your sneakers” have to do with whether you’re a collector or not? Yes, stamp collectors don’t send letters with their upside-down Jenny stamps, and coin collectors don’t buy things with their Indian-head pennies, but car collectors absolutely drive—and sometimes even race—their vintage Ferraris and Porsches, and record collectors play their rare Blue Note sides. There is no reason the two should be mutually exclusive.)

Sneaker collectors are as varied as their collections these days. This week, you will meet people from Alaska as well as from NYC. You will meet diggers who’ve spent hours in musty sporting goods basements, and people who’ve built their entire collection off eBay and internet connects. And if you pay attention, you’ll gain greater knowledge on how to build—and preserve—your own collection, whether it consists of pre-’80s adidas runners, original Air Jordans or LeBron PEs.

And just remember, if you buy sneakers with a purpose, and enjoy them for more than just their function, you are a sneaker collector. Embrace it.

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